Years ago my grandmother completed a paint-by-numbers kit of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, and it hung in my grandparents home amongst a room of treasured mementos that included family photos, rosaries, and WWII memorabilia. I photographed it one morning, marveling at how even when blurred to an extreme it remained iconic. After my grandmother died I created this work to remind me of the sanctity that resides in the work of our hands.
Fear Not, Neither Be Afraid
toner, acrylic, metallic leaf, and wax on panel
23” x 19” - 2011
There are a few studio amenities that, now that I've enjoyed them, I can't imagine going without.
Perhaps the most notable is having a sink in the studio. For years I had to walk down a winding hall every time I needed to clean a brush, which inevitably led to impromptu conversations with studio mates or waiting by the bathroom for someone to finish their business before I could even access a sink. How luxurious to just take four steps over to a faucet and then turn back around and pick up working again.
And then there's heat. You can just turn up the heaters in the studio when it gets cold. They won't blow a circuit and the button to their thermostats isn't jealously guarded for nine months out of the year in the interest of cutting energy costs. This means no numb toes and no need for fingerless gloves while trying to mix paint. I can even let go of the fact that one of the baseboard heaters is on a prime working wall which now must simply be used as a prime works in progress storage wall.
These seem like simple things, right? Yet I've never had both in any studio space I've ever occupied. Additionally, the functionality of this studio is greatly enhanced by the fact that it is temporary, and all the items in it (excluding a few tables and chairs) I've had to bring in for the interim. This helps minimize the clutter which so quickly takes hold in a permanent studio space. Work surfaces cannot be monopolized by stacks of vintage frames and one won't spend an hour looking for gum arabic amongst drawers and drawers of drawing supplies.
As it is so often the artist who renders their own studio sub-standard through a combination of materials hoarding and untidy work habits, having a short-term work space might ultimately prove to be a more productive arrangement as it necessitates a periodic uprooting and subsequent reevaluation of both working practice and materials. This experience has certainly informed some new thinking about how to arrange my permanent studio, which continues to languish in a state of near completion, as it has for months. I doubt I'll be able to plumb in a sink, but heat is within the realm of reason, as is a serious purging of items that do not immediately contribute to the creative work.
There is no shortage of precedent for glorifying death with the luster of gold. Above is one small work in progress that nods to that convention even as humanity is completely removed from the honorific.
Another memento mori on its merry way toward an end I can't quite visualize yet. Just a few days ago it looked like this. . .
Right now I'm just allowing this to be a reactive sort of process- with decisions made as they often are in life, in the wake of other decisions, some of which are good and some less so. You can try to whitewash certain elements, or perhaps scrape them away, with the hopes of starting fresh but ultimately some trace of what has come before always remains.
Dance of Death (1493) by Michael Wolgemut
An excellent article regarding the relationship of dance (and its employed Eros) and death appeared in the Guardian today. . . soldier through the first paragraph and you'll be rewarded with some excellent analysis of the danse macabre, including the supposition that the x-ray instantly became a new form of memento mori for the modern era, and some exploration of examples in literature where the masques and ballroom antics of the elite are especially fecund ground for Death's harvest.
Read the complete article here. . .
For those who know me well my inchoate foray into the memento mori genre will come with little surprise on the decline of 2012. It is a theme that somehow seems more relevant now that I'm a bit older-- less saturated with the laughable melodrama that infused so many early works of art when New Wave Goth and Anne Rice novels seemed like fine company any time I was without a girlfriend.
Which might be more candor than you're really seeking here.
So, with regards to the memento pictured above, you are seeing a work that is very much in progress. A diptych created from two reclaimed canvases over a decade old, with the left being leafed in silver and awaiting an image from the hillsides that make up Cascade Head. The skull is derived from a photograph I took in France many years ago. It rests atop a bit of IKEA fabric that has been thoroughly permeated with powdered graphite.
With spring in the air you might be turning your thoughts more towards the great outdoors than to the hallowed white walls of the art gallery but I tell you now that it is possible to marry both in the upcoming weeks if you are at all near historic Astoria, Oregon.
An excursion to this coastal town, situated at the ferocious mouth of the Columbia River, will not only get you that blast of salty sea air, but can also stimulate your aesthetic consciousness with a group exhibit of Portland photographers held at Lightbox Photographic Gallery. Some stalwarts of the PDX photo world are taking part, including urban minimalist TJ Norris, antiquarian advocate Blue Mitchell, Blue Moon Camera's Zeb Andrews, and silver gelatin master Stu Levy to name just a few. They even let yours truly sneak a piece on to the wall as well.
The exhibit is presented in honor of Portland Photo Month, a bi-annual celebration of photography in the Rose City that honors the diversity of photographic talent world-wide through exhibits, lectures, and workshops on all things related to the capture of light by a lens, chemistry, code or any combination of the bunch.
REMNANTS has been installed at 12x16 Gallery in Portland's Sellwood neighborhood. 12x16's space is quite lovely, divided into two different exhibition areas- one for a monthly exhibit by one of the co-op members and the other for an invited guest artist like yours truly.
An Artists' Reception for myself and Maryann Fielder will take place this coming Sunday, April 15th from 2-5pm. I do hope you'll have an opportunity to stop by.
REMNANTS features over 25 new works arranged with a selection of past works in compositions that treat the gallery walls as something of a tabula rasa. Vandalized antiquity, golden domes, teetering roller coasters, and bittersweet eulogies all have their place and offer a glimpse into the muzzy preoccupations that make up my visual life.
For over a decade Jeffrey T. Baker has explored the elegiac and sublime through his mixed media artworks. He harbors an unapologetic predisposition for the decayed and imperfect.
Presented here are his thoughts on artistic process, inspirations, tutorials, and information about related upcoming events.
Posts prior to 2011 visit Subjective: The Artful Life